Monday, April 20, 2015

New Eldar, New 40k: We're not in Kansas anymore!

While still dealing with the changes 7th edition brought, we now also have a new codex thrown into the mix. This post will discuss how things used to be, where we are today and what has changed/needs to change as we build our army lists in today's gaming environment.

As many people have probably seen the new Eldar rules (pretty much full codex disclosures abound, check them out here if you have not yet done so), there are a lot of mixed thoughts and feelings about what the new Eldar will look like, both in casual and competitive games. Before I get into what my Eldar lists will probably look like and what I think of the codex in general, I thought I'd write a bit about my journey as a 40k player and what I think/feel about where the game used to be and where it is today.

A backward glance:
When looking at what 40k looked like in the past, to say that "we're not in Kansas anymore" as it pertains to how we build and play armies/games of Warhammer is an understatement. Indeed, gone are the days of having just your army codex to write a list with and gone are the missions where all you had to do was kill more of your opponent's army than the opponent killed of your army. For example, in 3rd edition, you just had your codex (with the occasional supplement-no allies or multiple force orgs) and all that really mattered in a game was getting more Victory Points than your opponent with the occasional table quarter grab here and there-much like how Fantasy currently works. Somewhere along the line, objectives popped up and troops suddenly stopped being that 2 unit tax to take Fire Dragons but became essential to winning games.

Indeed, Games Workshop has occasionally tried to keep things "fresh" and different editions tried different ways to breathe new life into the hobby. From actual objectives that needed to be claimed by troops at the end of the game to true line of sight to how we build our armies now, 40k is a totally different animal from what it once was.

Decent into MaDnEsS:
As I mentioned, how armies have traditionally been built and played to how they are built and played today is a vastly different thing all together and how games were traditionally won have changed a lot as well. Building an army and playing a game in what I call "the early days" was a pretty linear process. You built an army with the traditional force organization slot from a single codex and you actually had a specific way to deploy armies (as in heavy support would be deployed before/after other slots). Then you rolled the all important dice on who goes first and blow each other up to smithereens... Whoever did the most damage won. Consequently, my focus in terms of list design gravitated to resilient units that were still killy enough to win games-I usually tabled my opponents while taking minimal losses myself. It didn't matter who killed the first or last unit, if you had troops on objectives or any other non-sense, just kill and kill some more!

Today, we are playing a totally different game. Now, the amount of firepower/close combat potential is a lot more in each army than it once was as compared to what we see in today's meta, armies of 3rd edition were actually pretty tame-the game is a lot more visceral as things just die a lot faster in today's meta. Furthermore, the sources we can build armies from has increased to a maddening degree as according to the rulebook, we can play with any number of detachments from any number of sources to playing with any models we might want to throw together. Therefore, we now have a form of chaos.

Consequently, building an army and playing a game today is anything but linear-it is a multifaceted, ever-changing swirling mass of chaos. For me, having played 40k since late 90's, traditional notions of what a 40k army looks like and how a game of 40k plays out have been challenged and practically eroded away into what we have today-an all you can eat buffet of plastic crack. This is the MaDnEsS that I refer to, Games Workshop seems to have cast off any semblance of structure and order that once was 40k and we are now left with this swirling chaos presented to us in the form of Warhammer 40k 7th edition.

Reacting to the MaDnEsS:
Without order, without rules, without guides, anything goes and that is an anathema to competitive gaming where there MUST be some order, rules and guidelines to determine what it means to compete and win. Therefore, various tournaments and organizers have banded together and have come up with varying formats by which to bind the chaos. Think of Warhammer 7th edition as the eye of terror that exploded devastating the Eldar race... 7th has exploded and devastated (1) the traditional sense of what 40k looks like to gamers who've been around long enough to know what that means; and, (2) presented players with no clear guidance or metric on what it means to play 40k competitively... Or has it?

Indeed, we have two main camps, those that say "the rulebook is official so lets just do whatever it says to do" and others that say "the way the rulebook presents 40k is unworkable in competitive 40k," So, on one hand he have the potential for someone to have an army of 18 Eldrads while on the other hand we have a group of individuals to come up with their own format/way to play 40k in a competitive setting because 18 Eldrads somehow doesn't seem right. The proper format to play 40k competitively is now whatever we say it is.

Dealing with the MaDnEsS:
Regardless of which camp you are in, each tournament format is unique and at this point, I don't think there is a single right way to play 40k like there was in 3rd edition and so on. GW has essentially taken a step back and said "we are no longer going to tell you how to play the game, you guys figure that out yourself" and for some of us, that challenges us and we don't like it. For others, it presents us with a world of opportunity and we embrace it.

As a veteran gamer, I think of Warhammer 40k 6th/7th edition in two ways: one as an abomination and two, as revelation. At first, 6th/7th is like an abomination as in previous editions, Games Workshop always told us what it means to play 40k. Warhammer 40k 6th/7th is like having been in the military or prison where you have a routine that is drilled into your skull and you get used to it only to be kicked out of the military/prison left to do whatever you want. Once out of this structured format, we might tend to panic as without someone telling us what to do or how to do it, we become paralyzed (as is the case with some people getting out of the military/prison). This is true of me to an extent and why 6th/7th is like an abomination, it flies in the face of how I traditionally knew how to play 40k.

Incidentally, taking this mentality and applying it to building/converting models, sometimes I just want to build a model as the instructions tell me how to-this gives me a feel for how something should look or how something is meant to look as there is a definite intentionality behind how models are put on a sprue. However, once I get the hang of building a particular model, or if I have a particular vision for how I want something to look, I can disregard what the model is meant to look like according to Games Workshop and do it how I mean for it to look. Some of my best models are the ones I came up with on my own, like Dr. Frankenstein, pulling parts from all over to create something that resembles a vision or concept that exists in my imagination. This leads me to how Warhammer 6th/7th is a sort of revelation as well.

Taking this concept of converting, I think this is what Games Workshop intends for us at 40k players. The revelation is that 40k does not have to have any one set way to play. It can be played however we as gamers ant to play it because it is our game. Still, there are questions like "but what is the official format for me to build my army list around?" and the answer is there is none.We have to now shake off any notion of how 40k "should be" just accept any and all formats presented at events around the world as equally legitimate. This poses a slight problem for a competitive gamer such as myself who wants to have some meaningful metric to determine winning and losing but none the less, each individual event sets the standard of what it means to win and so I must now adapt to each format-army, tactics and all, so that I can win in each format I participate in.

The future of 40k in terms of list design:
So now we have tournament organizers who struggle to keep the explosion of possibilities that come with 7th under wraps. We have varying limits on how many detachments can be taken with limitations on what counts as a detachment with limitations on what can be taken in each army (such as only one lord of war per army). This is good in a sense because if anyone can just take anything, that doesn't really work very well in a competitive setting. Two Revenant Titans as an army fighting a green tide of Orks doesn't really seem like a real or fair fight or even an exercise in skill but it may still be fun for both players involved as a one-off thing.

Indeed, part of the issue is that not every model/unit/army is equally matched which creates imbalance. Now imbalance, in and of itself, is not a problem mind you as a Pawn is no where near the use or potential as a Queen and yet Chess is still a good and competitive sport. The problem comes if all you have is Queens against an army of Pawns-then the game is unbalanced to the point where skill ceases to be a determinant factor in who wins or loses. Therefore, there must be some semblance of a level playing field so that more often than not, the better player wins. Sure dice sometimes plays a factor but generally speaking, a better player that has bad dice should still beat a worse player that has good dice through proper positioning and game play.

Therefore, I think it is good that we have different formats that try to create a level playing field, as much as possible, so that the focus is more on the player's skill in army list design and play. Nobody should be able to take a "net list" to a tournament and win irrespective of skill and I don't think that is where we are in 40k. Indeed, there are so many choices and options that regardless of what armies seem to be winning the most and what lists the internet says are good, you can still be creative with your army list and win games/tournaments.

Eldar list design-a look forward:
Looking at how Eldar lists will be made going forward, we now have the options of taking a standard CAD or creating an army as per the formations that will be present in the new codex or some combination of the two. This presents us with some interesting dilemmas in terms of what to take and why. Personally, the loss of objective secured would be a big deal-especially on Wraithguard as I've always loved them being a solid core of my army lists. However, since Wraithguard supposedly can't have objective secured anymore (as they can't be taken as troops anymore), there is probably no down-side to taking their formation. Likewise, by building your list with the "craft world" formations in the new codex, you are giving up objective secured for killing power which may be a good trade-off.

Overall, I've had quite a difficult time in coming up with what I might consider strong and solid army lists lately because the formats are so constantly shifting and what is permitted and what I will have to prepare for is constantly changing as well. This means that I will likely just pick what I feel is a solid core of an army that can handle (hopefully) any situation and just get good with it. Indeed, I think that a balanced army design approach with some really killy stuff as well as some resilient objective secured units will be key to the top lists. Specifically, you will need to make sure you can eliminate the opponent's ability to claim/contest your objectives while keeping him from getting his.

So my advice to anyone and everyone that has gotten this far in this article is to pick something that appeals to you in the codex, make an army list around it and get good with it. If it struggles against something in particular, adapt and add or modify elements of your army to be able to handle whatever you have been struggling with. I don't think there will be a "definitive" Eldar list in terms of competitive play so I will have to let go of any notion of "but what are the best units" and focus on "how can I be the best player regardless of what units I take?"

To conclude this article, I just want to say that there are ways we like to play and build armies that are near and dear to our hearts. I know I really miss the 3 Wraith Guard units/3 Wraith Lords as troops in the old Iyanden rules in 3rd edition! However, we need to realize that changes happen and we need to adapt to those changes or else we'll be stuck in the wrong attitude and mentality.

As always, to build a game or even tournament winning list, you will need to consider the types of things you will have to overcome. How will you handle many Flying Monstrous Creatures, Centurion Stars, Psychic Powers of DoOm, vehicles, hordes, Tau shooting, close combat? How will you ensure you survive what the other player can throw your way while positioning your forces to get objectives? How will you make sure to deny your opponent any objectives they might hope to claim? These are all questions that need to be addressed when writing a list and testing it out in games. The answers now, however, are not just limited to what ever is in your codex and that is what makes 7th so different and challenging in the crazy meta of today.


  1. First, glad to read another article from you. Second, I now see the utility of a blog over forums; there has been so much 'the sky is falling', it is hard to have any meaningful discussion.

    Your comparison of long time 40K players adjusting to the new edition actually makes a lot of sense. I really didn't like 6th and began to dislike it quite a bit as GWs direction really seemed to be unclear (some folks wouldn't recognize Escalation as a legitimate to use release).

    Out of everything in the book, the only thing I don't have a good understanding of or feel for is the Wraithknight. This is due to me never having played with a gargantuan creature. The rest I feel fairly comfortable with and really only see the D-Scythe and Archon/WWP as being a real hard counter. For pure offensive firepower and durability, I prefer the now old WS over Jetbikes. Jetbikes are much less resilient as there is so much out there that can get rid of bikes contrary to internet belief. Mobility, range, barrage etc... exist in nearly any army even if assuming a single CAD, and the game now allows you to fill in any gaps through this new way to build an army. I still cringe at seeing Tyranids allied with, well anything not Tyranids, but it can be done; Flying Hive Tyrants are great units and can shore up gaps in an army is just a small example. As a long time player, I won't put Tyranids in my Eldar army, but the possibility exists if I can undo 25 years of how I understand how this game is played.

    As for D weapons, I really wish I had the skills a lot of folks seem to have. I am really trying to recall just how many times I get to shoot with a unit of WG each game. I single squad does very little; it has to be combined with other things which increases points investment and potential to not get the right mix of psychic powers. There may be some method to the madness with GW after all. Drop the WG down via WWP and kill something, but a unit like that tends to disappear quickly. Again, there is so much in the game that can pull units off the table, I don't anticipate WG to stay on the table long when used in such an aggressive manner.

    The only sad part I see is coming from tourney players. I sympathize with TOs as they have quite a bit at financial risk. If they opt to not Comp and outright ban stuff in the Eldar codex, they risk lowered attendance and loss of money (such as Frontline Gaming, NOVA and many others). Ultimately, it is the gamer who dictates what will be in a current 40K game at these events and it won't be difficult to see how this will go. Sadly, it will strip out what may be really good counters to what has become Deathstar 40K. For myself, I actually thought we might see a big return to MSU as that is what really mitigates STR D. Too bad we won't see this now. I suspect we will be having this discussion again after the new Space Marine codex and they have access to STR D. Unfortunately, more people have Imperial armies and will likely to be more receptive to STR D; why should they not be allowed to play with their toys? We saw the justification for the Imperial Knight and somehow justified Ad Lance in nearly every large tourney. I say we start the petition now to ban Thunderhawks and anything with the D in the next Marine codex. I want to get ahead of this and just start declaring the sky will fall....again.

  2. The Wraithknight becoming a Gargantuan creature means it can fire 2 weapons at 2 different targets, gets Feel No Pain, suffers d3 wounds from instant death weapons (rather than dying outright) and is only wounded on a 6+ from poisoned/sniper weapons.

    All in all, a nice boost for the now 295 point guy and I think 290-310 is a fair price for what the Wraithknight now offers. Perhaps 340 would have been a better price point for what this guy does but I wouldn't pay more than that for a Wraithknight.

    Jetbikes spamming Scatter Lasers is something that won't be a big thing IMO, they are so easy to kill as is and people are blowing that issue out of proportion. Time will tell but I anticipate being right on this point.

    Also, I don't think D weapons are going to be that big of a problem aside from the D-Scythes. Distort weapons generally killed whatever they shot at anyway so that doesn't really matter. D-Scythes benefit the most as they auto-wound/penetrate and with the WWP, they can get where they need to and erase a target.

    Overall, Wraithguard can still be killed just as easily as before so its not like a Lynx or Titan that has these weapons in the codex... Once the Wraithguard kill something I am sure the Wraithguard will be obliterated so we'll see what happens. I think of Wraithguard/D-scythes as a one shot weapon at this point and I await what the ITC guys will do about it.